Love Bugs on a Private Beach

Today was highlighted by a hand collecting excursion at Kouchibouguac River Trail, interrupting a day that had been dedicated to visiting our regular sites.  We swept the low lying vegetation, peered under the bark of decaying logs and sieved the leaf litter for insects. Pseudoscorpions were unusually common as we collected through this particular trail.  We captured more than had been found at any other site so far.  They are comical invertebrates, with large pincer like forelegs extending in front of them, towering over their tiny bodies in comparison.

Three black bodied, red legged march flies, also known as “love bugs” on a rock in Fundy National Park.
Three black bodied, red legged march flies, also known as “love bugs” on a rock in Fundy National Park.

The most common insect that is regularly encountered throughout our collecting efforts, and was present at this particular location, is a relatively large, black bodied, red legged fly.  It has no apparent fear of us as insect collectors; they fly in large masses into Malaise traps, crawl into and succumb to pan traps, and willingly fly into sweep nets.  We first found this particular fly in the first week of our trip; they were caught in traps, airborne and congregating in masses on rocks adjacent to water bodies.  Eventually, we keyed out the fly to identify it.  We found that it was a member of the fly family Bibionidae, commonly known as march flies (dubbed “Fundy Flies” as mentioned previously in Graham’s latest post).  They have also obtained a cutesy nickname descriptive of their mating habits: “love bugs”.  Male march flies regularly attach themselves to their female counterparts in mating, accompanying her in flight for excessive periods of time, and leaving an impression that these two insects are soul mates in love.  In reality, the male “love bug” is simply protecting his paternity, ensuring no others can mate with the female.  These lethargic, slow moving insects commonly latch on to our clothing, are unmoving when we approach them, are unafraid of capture, and are extremely abundant on the East coast.

Katelyn Lutes, Graham Ansell, and Martin Zlatkin looking over the water at a private, secluded beach off of Kouchibouguac River Trail in Kouchibouguac National Park.
Katelyn Lutes, Graham Ansell, and Martin Zlatkin looking over the water at a private, secluded beach off of Kouchibouguac River Trail in Kouchibouguac National Park.

Kouchibouguac River Trail surprised us as we wrapped up our collecting.  We stumbled upon a beautiful secluded beach open to a broad section of the tributary and surrounded by tall evergreens. As we slowly travelled down the trail, we winded toward the coast and could glimpse sparkling water through the trees.  We approached a designated lookout and decided to take advantage of it, suddenly finding ourselves on our own private beach.  It was a peaceful ending to another day of collecting, until a porcupine surprised us by jumping up and waddling away in a frightened fury just a few meters in front of our path.

– Katelyn